This weekend was one for the books. When visiting Africa, it’s a must to get a chance to venture into the wild. While I’ve seen so much in both Port Elizabeth and the townships that has taken me out of my comfort zone, I really wanted to go on an excursion into the thousands of acres of untouched wilderness that make Africa so beautiful. Shamwari was all that and more.
It was an early start for us on Saturday morning, and the sun was just starting to rise as we entered the 25,000 hectare reserve. The mountains surrounding us were shrouded in fog and I had to take a moment to feel how small I was in the vastness. We met with our safari guide and hopped into the open-air Land Rover for a day of exploring.
There was no time wasted as we drove right over the terrain and into a herd of Cape Buffalo, the first of Africa’s Big Five. The Big Five are named so because they are the most dangerous animals to hunt. As one lumbered towards our truck, I could see why. The helmet of horns crowning this two-ton beast can ricochet bullets off of bone, and once they charge, they don’t stop. Fortunately, we just crossed paths and were off to see some more wildlife!
On our way to the Animal Rehabilitation Center, we saw dozens more animals—oreck, warthogs, springbok, and more. We stopped at mid-day at the Animal Rehabilitation Center which is managed by Shamwari and focuses on giving animals on the reserve that have been abandoned or injured a shot at recovery. I got to feed a nialla named Lilly and meet a zebra named Zeus!
We headed out again in search of the remainder of the Big Five. Our guide was able to track some elephants a few miles away, so we headed over to what was my favorite encounter of the day. The herd of elephants we encountered was a group of females and two adorable baby elephants! I could hardly breathe when one of the females walked LITERALLY a foot away from our truck, and I could have spent hours watching them eat with their long and surprisingly nimble trunks. They are definitely one of my favorite animals and seeing them up close was incredible.
Our next goal was to see the King of Africa and the Big Five: the lion. We past a few fresh prints on the wet mud and spent a few hours driving around some open plain. We ended up driving past the three lions we saw a few times, because they could hardly be spotted as they were taking a mid-day nap. After watching them for a while, the male got up and did the most cat-like stretch in the sun. Totally cuddle-worthy, but I decided against getting out of our truck and in with the lions.
Rhino, another member of the Big Five, are incredibly valuable and as a result have lost about half their population due to poaching. The conservationists at Shamwari make sure to take every precaution to prevent poachers from killing rhinos or permanently injuring them by improperly removing their horns. We were really lucky to see a mother rhino and her baby on our drive and I’m really hoping that people will realize that having that opportunity is priceless.
After stopping for lunch, we headed to the Big Cat Rehabilitation Center, where we saw our final member of the Big Five: leopard. Even though we didn’t see them in the wild, these three triplets were taken from Romania where they were used in circuses and had spent their entire life in a cage. Being able to roam free in their natural habitat is the mission of this place, and seeing all the big cats there was nothing short of amazing.
We headed back for dinner and enjoyed a great night at the volunteer quarters. I swear the stars have never looked more beautiful. After a good night’s rest we headed back to Port Elizabeth, ready to begin another week.
I could not have asked for a better safari experience! Seeing all of the Big Five in one day and experiencing Africa’s beautiful landscape was definitely something I’ll never forget.
This is our final week of teaching and coaching before school break. Next week we are hosting a holiday camp for all the different townships, and I may have some very special guests featured on my next blog...